The tragedy in Tucson has slowly been moving from the front pages to the back pages of the newspapers. It is no longer the first story you hear on the radio, or see on TV news programs or news websites. Despite that fact, I can’t seem to get it out of my mind.
Stories like these take me back to my days as a news reporter, when I covered my share of senseless crimes involving innocent people who were simply going about the business of living. This time, though, it was more than just feeling empathy for those connected to the shooting, or remembering the challenges of covering such a sad event. Thanks to the profound witness of one of the victims, federal Judge John Roll, a Catholic, the incident had me thinking about how much more I need to do in the work of self-sacrifice and evangelization.
A surveillance video of the rampage shows that Roll apparently died while saving the life of another man. He was one of the six people killed when accused gunman Jared Loughner opened fire, critically injuring U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. According to a Wall Street Journal report, a captain with the Pima County Sheriff’s Office said the video shows the judge pushing another man to the ground as the shooting started. Both men were hit, but the other victim survived. The Journal quotes the captain as saying, “It’s pretty evident Judge Roll was a hero.”
Laying down one’s life for a friend is, as Jesus tells us, the greatest way to show our love for our fellow man. I wonder if I would have the courage to do what Roll did; to think about someone else while my own life was obviously also hanging in the balance.
The judge’s bravery that day was certainly heroic. But according to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, the judge was a hero in many other ways. In one of his recent columns for the Denver Catholic Register, the archbishop spoke of his correspondence with the judge, which began after Roll’s wife, Maureen, told her husband about a homily the archbishop gave at a 2008 Red Mass for attorneys in the Diocese of Phoenix.
“It’s impossible to fully know a man from correspondence alone. But each of John Roll’s letters had the same four clear marks: generosity; intelligence; largeness of spirit; and a sincere love for his Catholic faith,” Archbishop Chaput wrote.
The archbishop described how Roll mentored young Christian attorneys, as he believed their faith gave them a better moral foundation for their work. He attended daily Mass and kept a biography of St. Thomas More near his desk. All of this is testimony to the kind of witness Roll was, especially the fact that he reached out to those with whom he disagreed politically.
“John Roll was, finally, a man of unusual personal graciousness. Despite their political differences, Judge Roll and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, had a cordial relationship of mutual respect. Giffords sought more resources for the court system and Judge Roll was grateful,” the archbishop explained. “Precisely because of their differences, Roll tried to greet Giffords at her local appearances whenever he could.”
While I am certainly not shy and can hold my own in most conversations about politics and faith, there are times when I don’t reach out to those who disagree with me. It is so much easier to be around those who share the same opinions.
And while I will continue to do what I can to strengthen faithful Catholics, I also know I need to be more like Roll and step out of my comfort zone. He is a stellar example for all of us in the way he lived his life and even in the way he died. Well done, good and faithful servant.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.